Unlocking design potential in developing countries

Good design is good business. It can spur innovation, improve the consumer experience, boost business growth and increase profitability. In the United Kingdom, for example, design contributes around GBP71.1 billion to the economy.

But in order to capitalize on the design potential of their companies, entrepreneurs need the confidence to invest in design and, crucially, the know-how to protect their valuable intellectual property (IP) assets and to leverage them in local and international markets.

In many developing and least developed countries, the huge economic and innovative potential of design and design thinking often goes unseen. That’s why two years ago, building on a proposal from the Government of the Republic of Korea, WIPO launched a pilot project in Argentina and Morocco to promote awareness and use of design-led strategies supported by use of IP rights among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The WIPO-led pilot project on Intellectual Property and Design Management for Business Development in Developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs), launched in 2014, aims to unlock the vast untapped design potential of SMEs in Argentina and Morocco (Photo: Courtesy of Distribuidora, Argentina).

Vast untapped potential

Launched in 2014, the Pilot Project on Intellectual Property and Design Management for Business Development in Developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) has been rolled out by WIPO in collaboration with the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) in Argentina and the Moroccan Office of Industrial and Commercial Property (OMPIC). The project aims to unlock the vast untapped design potential of SMEs in Argentina and Morocco. The role of SMEs in driving economic growth, generating wealth and creating employment is well documented, as is their capacity to innovate and create.

Argentina and Morocco are ideal candidates for the project. SMEs make up over 99 percent of the business sector in each country, employing 60 percent and 21.6 percent of their respective workforces. But amid low levels of IP awareness, the economic potential of these companies is largely untapped and ripe for development.

“This pilot project – the first of its kind – demonstrates how intellectual property rights, particularly industrial design rights, can support the economic development goals of all countries, especially developing and least developed countries,” notes WIPO Deputy Director General Binying Wang, who oversees the Organization’s Brands and Designs Sector.

About the project

To create awareness and understanding of the advantages of design thinking supported by effective use of IP rights, the project has adopted a new, holistic and fully integrated approach involving all relevant actors. A program with a single public-private partnership platform has been established in each country – DiseñAr in Argentina and Namadij in Morocco – to ensure all elements of the project are aligned, coherent and fully coordinated.

By bringing IP authorities and businesses together, these platforms are helping to ensure that national IP systems evolve and are responsive to the needs of the business community. They also help to inform businesses about the advantages of the IP services available to them and how they can be used to leverage the value of their IP assets.

After a rigorous screening process, 68 companies – 42 from Argentina and 26 from Morocco – were selected to participate in the pilot project (Photo: Courtesy of Distribuidora, rgentina).“We adopted a novel methodology in rolling out the project, making every effort to bring all relevant actors together and to ensure that all institutional, regulatory and practical elements were fully aligned,” explains WIPO’s Maria Zarraga, responsible for managing the pilot project. “In the longer term, these platforms will make it easier for each country to take concrete steps to romote long-term strategic use of design rights in support of their national innovation goals.”

After a rigorous screening process, 68 companies – 42 from Argentina and 26 from Morocco – were selected to participate in the pilot project. Workshops and other events were organized to enable participating companies to exchange experiences and ideas among themselves and with experts and IP officials. Each company also received hands-on guidance from a multidisciplinary team of experts over a six-month period.

“Design can make a critical difference to business success. Well-designed products stand out in the market and translate into greater demand and increased profits. That is why we felt it was important for our multi-disciplinary team of experts to work directly with participating companies,” says Ms. Zarraga. “The practical guidance they received has brought about a dramatic shift in the way many of them think about design and IP. Many of them are embedding design thinking into their business strategies and are making greater use of the IP system. There is growing evidence that having participated in the project they are now better able to manage their IP assets, more competitive, and that the value of their businesses is rising. In sum, they are beginning to unlock their design potential.”

* Reactions from Argentine participants

Each participating company benefitted from hands-on guidance from a multidisciplinary team of experts for six months. (Photo: Courtesy of Inspiration Ethnique, Morocco).“Since taking part in this program, the advice and support we have received from professionals has changed our approach to registering trademarks and industrial designs. We have seen a significant increase in the value of the Intorno brand and of the company’s market value,” says Gabriel Intorno, CEO of Intorno Argentina, one of the participating companies.

“Programs such as this provide early access to much-needed professional advice, which helps avoid future growth-related problems. I know of many cases where a company starting out did not think it was necessary to register its brand, only to find when its business did expand and it wanted to protect its brand, it could not because it had already been registered by someone else. The company lost its entire brand value after so much work had gone into it, and had to start from scratch to build a new brand,” he explains.

“Thanks to the program, we now have a realistic view of the value of our expertise in the field of water engineering,” notes Luis Chiodo, Managing Partner of Fish & Lakes. “We are now much more focused on protecting this value and have taken a more proactive approach to registering designs and patents. In 2016, we will seek patent protection internationally for a bioreactor to produce algae (spirulina). We also plan to register several designs for water treatment equipment. Through the program we conducted our first international patent searches. This confirmed that our work is innovative not only in Argentina and the region but internationally. This has changed our perspective considerably and is opening up new and interesting markets for us.”

* Reactions from Moroccan participants

“The Namadij initiative has opened our eyes to a reality that is completely different from what we initially thought. The support we have received has shed light on the legal aspects of protecting our products and has allowed us to overcome a deep worry we had in this regard,” says Bassam Haddad, CEO of Inspiration Ethnique in Rabat.

“We have been investing in creating new, more contemporary designs, and our participation in the Namadij program is well timed because it has allowed us to integrate design thinking into our business strategy. We are now better equipped to protect our products and are thinking ahead about how to defend ourselves if ever they are copied,” says Driss Benchekroun, CEO of Puzzelige, a producer of decorative craft mosaic flooring and wall coating in Rabat.


A survey has shown that the pilot project is having a significant impact on small design-intensive businesses in both countries. By November 2015, companies had registered or were in the process of registering 117 industrial designs, 29 trademarks and several patents. Critically, 95 percent of the companies surveyed indicated their willingness to continue to strategically protect their designs. Recognizing the advantages that can flow from effective use of IP rights, they also said they would continue to build their capacity to use and fully integrate IP rights into their long-term business plans.

Building trust is key

A key aspect of the project’s innovative methodology has been the emphasis placed on establishing relationships among all the actors involved. “From the outset we set great store on building trust among all the parties. This was particularly important among the participating companies as many of them believed that official channels had little to offer them in tackling their business challenges. Building trust has been the key to bringing about the cultural changes we are beginning to see,” explains Ms. Zarraga.

“With the active support of the Ministry of Industry in Argentina and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and New Technologies and the Ministry of Crafts in Morocco, stakeholders believe the project has been a force for change in Argentina and Morocco, spreading IP awareness and supporting the development of design industries and the national IP systems of both countries,” says Ms. Zarraga.

Building on the momentum of the pilot project, Argentina and Morocco are planning to launch a second edition of their DiseñAr and Namadij programs in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Other countries are also expressing interest in using the project’s methodology and tools to unlock the design potential of their own design-rich companies, and to build on the know-how and experiences of Argentina and Morocco.

Source: WIPO Magazine